Most Common Trees and Their Uses

Many trees - small

Trees are all around us. In parks, along the road, in our yards…….everywhere. Everyone knows from school science class that they produce oxygen, there are hundreds of species, and trees grow from small too tall too HUGE. Did you know that trees can also provide other materials that we can use, besides wood? Some produce a food source, others are good for shelter building, and of course for burning.

One of the most amazing things was when I told my child that you could eat parts of some trees. The look was……really?!……as I ate a bite. The look changed to awe with the realization of how cool that is. Trees surround most people on earth all day, some may use them for shade, but most don’t even truly notice them.

Below are the top 9 most common trees in the United States according to the USFS. Most of them have many uses to people besides shade, and this is not an exhaustive list. As is always the case with eating plants…..make sure you know what you’re eating. This article is not intended to be that guide to tell you what to eat, but to simply point you in a direction. For more information on tree identification and uses, please check out the following links or materials, and of course the internet has additional information.

U.S. Forest Service – Very helpful information for adults, but also has an extensive area for kids of all ages.

What Tree is that? – This book by the Arbor Day Foundation will help you positively identify many trees in the US.

Edible Wild Plants – This is one of many books on wild edibles that can guide you also.

So the question now is….what are the most common trees in the United States and what can they be used for, if anything?

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

  • Helicopters, that’s what I’ve always called the seeds from the Maple tree. The seeds inside the little helicopters are edible. An internet search of “how to eat maple seeds” will reveal many options besides just raw.
  • You can almost always use maple branches for wilderness cooking. Whether it’s a spit roast, a hot dog stick or utensils, you can always find a maple branch suitable for the task. Maple branches naturally have a lot of forks, which is great for pot holders and other wilderness kitchen uses.  I’ve read that you can also use the leaves to wrap fish or other small game animals when cooling in an earth oven, I have never tried an earth oven though.
  • Young maple leaves are also edible. Toss them into a salad or boil them down with other spring greens. They get bitter and rough as they mature though.

Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)

  • The Pine Needles can be used to make a tea that is high in vitamin C.
  • The Pine nuts are edible, though maybe difficult to harvest. They also degrade quickly once they are shelled.
  • The resin from the pine can be chewed like a gum and is quit sweet. (Make sure it’s clean). The resin is also quit flammable, which makes it good for fire starting. Mixed through a process the resin can be made into pitch, which is very good for fire starting. Resin also has some medicinal properties that the Native Americans used.
  • The Pine boughs are good for shelter construction and they make a soft bed.

Sweetgum (liquidambar styraciflua)

  • The leaves and inner bark has been used by the Native Americans for medicines that treat coughs, dysentery, and wounds.
  • The sap can be collected and chewed like gum. It can also be used as incense when burned.

Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

  • The resin, like Pines is flammable and can be made into Pitch.
  • The needles make a tea that is high in vitamin C.
  • The resin can also be used as a water sealant on seams.

Quaking Aspen (Populus Tremuloides)

  • The inner bark can be eaten, and is better in the spring and gets bitter as the season progresses. This inner bark can also be dried and ground into flour.
  • The flowering spikes that arrive in the spring are also edible.

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

  • In later winter/early spring when the sap is running, the sugar maple is an excellent source of drinkable water (sap) that needs no purification. Maple Sap is nature’s version of an energy drink – rich in sugar and nutrients. There is a technique to gathering the sap so I would do some research on how, before you start hammer things into a tree.
  • As mentioned, like the Red Maple the seeds inside the little helicopters are edible. An internet search of “how to eat maple seeds” will reveal many options for consumption.
  • You can almost always use maple branches for wilderness cooking. Whether it’s a spit roast, a hot dog stick or utensils, you can always find a maple branch suitable for the task. Maple branches naturally have a lot of forks, which is great for pot holders and other wilderness kitchen uses.  I’ve read that you can also use the leaves to wrap fish or other small game animals when cooling in an earth oven, I have never tried an earth oven.
  • Young maple leaves are also edible. Toss them into a salad or boil them down with other spring greens. They get bitter and rough as they mature though.

Balsam Fir (Abies Balsamea)

  • The resin from this tree is flammable and good for fire starting. It has reportedly been used to make glue, cold & cough medicine, and sealant.
  • The resin can also be used as wound care to stop bleeding and seal against infection and it can be used on burns.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

  • Good for making items that need flexible wood, but that’s about it. Some Dogwoods do have edible parts, but according to many sources the Flowering Dogwood does not.

Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta)

  • The Pine Needles can be used to make a tea that is high in vitamin C.
  • The Pine nuts are edible, though maybe difficult to harvest. They also degrade quickly once they are shelled.
  • The resin from the pine can be chewed like a gum and is quit sweet. (Make sure it’s clean). The resin is also quit flammable, which makes it good for fire starting. Mixed through a process the resin can be made into pitch, which is very good for fire starting. Resin also has some medicinal properties that the Native Americans used.
  • The Pine boughs are also good for shelter construction and they make a soft bed.

White Oak (Quercus alba)

  • Acorns (after leaching out the tannic acid) can be ground and used as flour to make acorn bread.
  • Tannic acid (which can be extracted by boiling or leaching acorns and/or inner oak bark and twigs) has many medicinal uses. A quick internet search will give you many sites with all of the uses and how they can be administered.
  • Acorns can be used as trap bait for squirrel and other small game animals
  • Can tan leather using the tannic acid found in bark, acorns and wood
  • Oak is a very hard wood that is good for ax handles, digging sticks and shelter frameworks.
  • When dried, the white oak flowers make suitable tinder bundles and can be found in great abundance certain times of the year

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s